Tech conglomerates have been looking to Taiwan as a premiere source of talent in artificial intelligence (AI). As a result, Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), Premier (government head) of the Republic of China, plans to train 10,000 people a year to work in AI research and development to “raise industry competitiveness as well as [raise] the quality of life of our citizens.” To put this figure into perspective, only about 22,000 people worldwide are qualified enough to research AI to start new projects, according to J.F. Gagne, founder and CEO of Element AI.
“In less than two years, Taiwan has become a stage for AI application innovations watched by the world,” Premier Su Tseng-chang said in a statement, as reported by Forbes.
After launching its AI office with one employee in 2006, Google’s Taiwanese operations have expanded to 2,000 employees, a data centre and a Google Cloud region, becoming the company’s largest engineering site in Asia.
“As we’ve grown, so too has Taiwan’s importance to us as a research and innovation hub,” wrote Lee-Feng Chien, engineering director for AI Google in Taiwan. “World-class engineers in Taiwan have helped improve products like Android and Chrome, making them work better for the whole world. Taiwanese engineers have also researched, designed and built beautiful, high-end Android devices, like the Pixel 2.”
In 2018, Google pledged to hire 300 Taiwanese citizens, train at least 5,000 students in AI programming, and offer free online and offline digital marketing training to over 50,000 businesses and students throughout the country. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Nvidia have also expressed interest in developing AI research and development centres and similar platforms in Taiwan.
To recruit 10,000 people per year, Premier Su Tseng-chang plans to offer AI education in elementary and middle schools and provide supplementary teaching materials in public schools. Online AI lessons are also being offered by the government, and 1,000 people have already enrolled in the classes.
“Taiwanese universities are constantly ranked among the top in terms of generating AI research results,” explained Jamie Lin, founding partner of Taiwanese startup accelerator AppWorks Ventures.
However, William Foreman, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, expressed that aptitude in computer science has always been in high demand in Taiwan, “and the shortage of talent is growing even more acute as companies get into AI.”
“Taiwan has a lot going for it with AI research,” he told Forbes. “Companies can hire top-quality engineering talent that has earned a reputation for being more loyal and stable, less likely to be poached, compared to others in places like China, where the competition for talent is absolutely fierce.”
Helen Chiang, Taipei general manager at market research firm IDC, has also stated that encouraging Taiwanese citizens to focus on AI instead of hardware will be key.
“Taiwan already has a lot of AI projects in the universities,” she explained. “In terms of scientists the government especially wants to cultivate this area, so the talent pool has been developing slowly over time, and the resources are quite important.”